Knowing vs. Doing – Part I: Setting Priorities

This post is the first in a series of five focused on narrowing or eliminating the gap between ‘Knowing’ vs. ‘Doing’. In our personal lives, we all know what we ‘should’ be doing, but our daily habits and tactics don’t always line up. Similarly, in business, a business without an achievable strategy, a business will ultimately deteriorate to the point where it’s simply a series of fires being put out.

Setting Priorities

Most senior managers are very aware of the things they need to do to reach greater levels of profitability and growth. However, many don’t have the time to come up for air to determine which actions they should take, and in what order to build momentum. .

Now, let’s stop for a moment and remind ourselves of the following quote:

“Well done” is always better than “Well said”.”

There will be a small percentage of readers who can state, with confidence, that they have a well-defined strategic plan, and have assembled a series of tactics to achieve this plan. For everyone else, it’s time to set step back, catch your breath and prioritize.

My two favorite methods/systems of prioritization are extremely simple, and are/were used by two very successful individuals – Warren Buffett and President Dwight D Eisenhower.

The Buffett Method of Prioritizing Strategies and Goals

You can read about the Buffett method here. In a quick summary here’s how it works:

  1. Write down up to 25 goals – big and small, that you have for your business. This needs to be done by both principals and senior managers.
  2. Combine all the goals you listed with those of the rest of your team
  3. Circle the top 5 goals that are achievable in the next 12-24 months. This is your ‘List A’. The remaining goals are your ‘List B’.
  4. Although it’s not technically part of the Buffett method, when it comes to execution, size and scale matters. For Large operators (e.g. over 200 buses), 5 important goals is a ‘doable’ thing in 12-24 months. However, for smaller operators, I would pare the five down to 2 – max. For mid-sized operators (50-200), 3-4 should work.
  5. Now that you have List A and List B. What’s next? Simple develop a strategy and a project plan to achieve each item on List A and adjust where necessary. Make sure every person on your team knows what is on List A, meet weekly to discuss. List A needs to become ingrained in the fabric of your team.
  6. What happens to List B? Easy, store each of those goals away and don’t consider them until you’ve completed / achieved List A. They are not given any more time!

The key difference between the Buffett Method for personal vs business is collaboration. In order to build long-term business value, the decisions on which goals make List A must be done in conjunction with those in c-suite right through to the driver’s seat. You want buy-in, and a thorough understanding of what is achievable, and what’s not. For larger companies, this typically would involve departmental goals, and strategies, for smaller companies, company wide goals and strategies.

The Eisenhower Method: Prioritizing Daily Tactics, Tasks and Habits

Everyone has the person on the team that fills their day up with ‘busy work’ that provides little or no value to the business. People always ask me what is the number one cost-saving opportunity for companies, regardless of the industry, it will always be removing those people from your businesses. The longer you wait, and the more you grow, you are tacitly telling your team this behavior is acceptable, and suddenly you have a business full of ineffective people. Cut them from the team. It will improve culture, set a new course for that role in the business, and add to your bottom line.

Each if us also has daily habits and tasks we all do that are either redundant (not needed or done by someone else), or those that are not moving the business forward. Doing an audit of your daily and weekly habits and tasks is an important one that should be done by everyone in your business. Once you have that cumulative list, it’s time to prioritize. The Eisenhower Matrix is a phenomenal way for people in all roles, and at all levels of responsibility, to do a gut-check on their daily activities. How does it work?

President Eisenhower would regularly create a matrix to properly categorize and prioritize his daily activities. This eventually turned into a mental model that his team used to decide which things they should bring to him, and which things should be immediately delegated, or perhaps eliminated. Here are sections within each matrix, and how to consider those daily tasks and habits:

1.Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).

2.Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).

3.Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).

4.Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

Although setting priorities can sound boring, it can be the main difference between success and failure. Hopefully the above two methods provide you with some food for thought. Are you expecting too much from your team, from yourself? Do you need to be part of that email chain? Are you going to keep allowing people to use their time ineffectively and inefficiently? Does your team know their collective priorities other than the daily ‘busy work’? Take some time, give this some thought. Take action.